Bluebell creeper is native to south-western Australia. It is a medium-sized climbing shrub. The branches climb and twirl around other plants and man-made structures. It has dark green, glossy leaves about 50mm long. There is a distinctive mid-vein and the leaf is hairless. Flowers appear from spring to summer and are usually blue-mauve in colour, but some plants produce pink or white flowers. Each flower is bell-shaped with five petals and occur in drooping clusters of 1-5 flowers at the tips of the branches. The fruits are green turning purple green, cylindrical in shape and about 20mm long.
The City of Cape Town's Invasive Species Unit is calling on all residents to report sightings of the invasive Australian bluebell creeper (Billardiera heterophylla).
This internationally notorious invasive creeper can be identified by its delicate blue, bell-shaped flowers.
As part of the invasive species Early Detection and Rapid Response programme, the City of Cape Town's Invasive Species Unit, is launching a public campaign to locate known plants so that a management programme can be developed to remove them.
Invasive species are controlled by the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) (Act 10 of 2004) – Alien and Invasive Species (AIS) regulations, which were gazetted on 1 August 2014 and became law on 1 October 2014. The National Invasive Species List comprises 559 invasive species in four categories.
What is a Category 1a invader in South Africa?
In South Africa, the bluebell creeper is classified as a Category 1a invader species under the Invasive Species Regulations under NEMBA.
This means that landowners must control, remove and destroy the plant - and any seed - on their property. Any form of trade or planting of this species is strictly prohibited.
Category 1a plants are highly invasive and potentially very damaging to indigenous species.
For this reason, the City makes every effort to control it on municipal land and even offers assistance to private landowners to control it on private properties at no cost to the landowner.
Hout Bay Bluebell Climber Invasion
In 2014, a population of bluebell creeper was discovered on the Klein Leeukoppie estate in Hout Bay, Cape Town.
Consisting of roughly 3 500 plants, the infestation was cleared by the City of Cape Town Invasive Species Unit in 2015.
Access to the site was give to the invasive species removal teams by the land owner.
Over 100kg of bluebell creeper seed pods were removed from the site at – this amounted to over 8.3 million seeds.
How to identify the Australian Bluebell Creeper?
The invasive Australian bluebell creeper is a vigorous climbing plant or shrub with branches that twine around the stems of other plants for support.
The dense foliage of the bluebell creeper smothers native vegetation, preventing natural regeneration and impacting on native fauna by changing the habitat composition denying them of food and shelter.
Botanically, the bluebell creeper can be identified by its dark, hairless green leaves of about 50mm long. The upper surface of the leaves is distinctly glossy with the under surface being lighter in colour with a prominent mid-vein. The bell-shaped flowers are 10mm long and blue-mauve (sometimes pink or white) in colour with five petals occurring in drooping clusters of between 1 to 5 flowers at the tips of the branches.
Flowers are usually seen in from September to April. The cylindrical fruits (seed pods) are 20mm long and are initially green in colour, turning purple-black when ripe. Each fruit contains numerous small, reddish-brown, sticky seeds.
The seeds are mostly dispersed by birds and small mammals that eat the fruit, or in dumped garden refuse.
Dumping may also spread the plant vegetatively. This species rapidly regenerates and spreads after fire, and as it is found in the fire-prone fynbos biome of the Western Cape, it has the potential to become a serious weed.
Conservationists are now worried that its rapid spread will cause enormous ecological damage by smothering and displacing indigenous vegetation.
The plant is also toxic and can cause skin irritations and nausea.
What can the public do?
· Never dispose of the bluebell creeper as part of waste.
· Like us on facebook and learn more about invasive species in Cape Town: www.facebook.com/ctinvasives
The City encourages residents to participate in the forums as this is an opportunity to be empowered with knowledge about invasive species, which threaten our indigenous species. The more we know, the better equipped we can be as residents to make informed choices that will benefit our environment and future generations.
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